Posts Tagged ‘Sidney Pitman’

IOW Surf History on BBC Countryfile

A few weeks a go I was contacted by BBC Countryfile saying they were filming on the Island later in the month and had come across the Wight Surf History website and were interested in showing the history of surfing on Island on the show. One of the BBC Countryfile presenters would have a surfing lesson and speak to some of the surfing legends about the legacy of the sport on the Island. One of the people they were particularly interested in talking to was Betty Tricket and too see Archie’s old surfboard and wetsuit.

The BBC Countryfile team turned up at Compton on Thursday morning in style with a lovely blue VW Camper from Isle of Wight Camper Van Holidays. Ellie Harrison met up with Scott Gardner of Wight Water and son of Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardner, (one of the first to surf on the Island back in the sixties) to have a surf lesson.

The car park was a busy place while the film crew got ready for the days shoot and Scott got Ellie set up with a board. Ellie got a few tips from Sid Pitman one of the first members of the Isle of Wight Surf Club that was formed in 1967.

The conditions weren’t ideal with strong onshore winds but the sun came out and there were waves and Scott went out and grabbed a quick wave showing Ellie how it’s done. After a few lessons on the sand and a some warm up excersises Ellie and Scott finally hit the water for the lesson. After a couple of initial tumbles Ellie looked like she was getting the hang of it and having a blast at the same time. By the end of the lesson Ellie was up and riding waves and getting huge cheers from everyone on the clifftop (sorry I missed you standing up Ellie, I’d gone to pick up Archie’s surfboard).

Rob Drake-Knight from Rapanui (and recently ‘Come Dine with Me’ fame) went in the water as spotter for Jules Benham the BBC Countryfile researcher and water cameraman. After Ellie’s lesson some of the guys from the Isle of Wight Surf Club went out and grabbed a few waves too. I just got back in time to see Joe Truman take out a 1970’s Tiki single fin surfboard to try out.

Ellie then went onto speak with Matt Harwood (Chairman of the Isle of Wight Surf Club), Mart Drake-Knight (Rapanui), Alan Reed (British Masters Longboard Champion), Mark New with Betty Tricket about Archie’s surfboard and wetsuit from the sixties.

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Alan Reed then got to take Archie’s homemade surfboard for a surf. Archie had surfed until he was 74 and the board hadn’t been in the sea for 15 years. Betty was really looking forward to seeing the board in the water again and remarked as Alan started to paddle it out that it reminded her of seeing Archie paddling the board all those years a go.

Al came in after catching a few waves saying how well it rode and it was a really lovely moment when Betty walked up a agve Al a big hug. Archie’s surfboard got a lot of interest and many of the the boys said how the shape of the board was actually ahead of it’s time with quite a lot of rocker in it.

At the end of the days shooting I bumped into Steve Williams who remembered Archie when he used to turn up the beach in his old Ford Anglia and walk down past the wreck to catch a few waves.


Peter Smith

I met Sid when my dad and I were lodging at Dimbola above Freshwater Bay during the winter of 1973 when I started lower 6th at Carisbrooke and my dad was head of the catering dept at the Isle Of Wight Technical College. Dad and I used to walk down to swim at the bay, and one day there was a decent swell and one guy out there all by himself. Got chatting to him, and he told me all about the surf spots on the island and the surf club…

We moved to Newport after a while (during that winter I think) and from there I used to catch rides with Rog Cooper, Brian “the screw” Hill, Tony Macpherson. I used to walk down to Tony’s house on Pan Estate before light with my “fare” – a pack of biccies to share, then we’d go in one of their cars by rotation. I was by far the youngest (and only “young”) surfer on the island at that time.

During my upper 6th year Steve Chase arrived from Portsmouth, and was working at the garage at the bottom of the hill below Carisbrooke High School, so I’d get lifts with him also (often not getting back to school if the waves were good, hence only getting 2 A levels instead of 3…). I also got the use of my parents’ 1960 Morris 1000 traveller when I learnt to drive, so could get out more by myself when I had money for petrol.

Dave “turf” Salero was very active then too – I think he’d won the IOW championship the year I arrived (at about 40 years old after only surfing a couple of years).

The Club house was not even close to the edge of the cliff at Compton, movie nights by Pete Brown and Annie (now married to Tony Mac I believe)… lots of great times.
“Postman” Tad with his stories of Peniche in Portugal, the other guy I forget the name of who’d moved away, but came back for a while and lived in a converted hearse or London taxi cab… the connection with Genevieve Berrouet in Guethary where I ended up spending 7 months in 1976 and again in 77…

And I remember those special days when we’d come over the hill and see lines stretching out to the horizon, and we’d flash by Compton to FB… and those VERY special days when it was working. One day Steve’s dog got so excited at our hollering he peed himself all over me on the front seat!

There’s an old movie of Annie’s that has some FB in it, don’t know if it’s still around anywhere.

Haha… this was going to be just a word to say I’d be happy to give you some info – now you have some!!

Have been talking to Sid Pitman about a trip Pete and Dave Salero did to Woolacombe meeting up with Roger Cooper. Sid remembers Pete cooking an omelette for everyone which was a complete mess while in the camper next door Roger Cooper had managed to cook a full roast dinner followed by trifle which he fiunished off all by himself.


The South Coast Surfing Contest

After several meetings with the South Coast Surf Club guys at various venues over time, they said it would be a good idea to have a strictly South Coast competition, held on the Island.

Having organised several club competitions, the committee thought it would be just a case of more of the same. So it was for the first year, but by the 2nd or 3rd years people from other clubs were expecting a more professional approach following the British Surfing Association’s guide lines with ‘proper’ judges etc, not the ad-hoc arrangements that had suited us over the years.

I should mention at this point that, in addition to the South Coast Surfing Club there was the Wessex Surf Club, a club from West Wittering, the Ordnance Survey Surf Club from Southampton, Brighton Surf Club, the London Surf Club, Hayling Island Surf Club and the East Kent Surf Club all clamouring to take part. What had started as a bit of fun rapidly deteriorated into grumblings and protests about the somewhat amateurish organisation over the course of 3-4 years. This was a shame because the majority of visiting surfers actually enjoyed their visits to the Island.

At the first contest, I was fortunate enough to progress as far as the semi-finals with local knowledge playing a major part in my success. There were many others from the Island who took part over the years, but I believe the most successful was Sid, who made the final one year. Maybe the time has come, with local surfers getting towards the top of the UK rankings, to reprise this South Coast only event.


Equipment and Jake Wilson surfboards

Equipment

As mentioned earlier, most of us didn’t have our own boards in the early days; this was because: a) the only place in the UK at that time where you could buy boards was Cornwall & b) we couldn’t afford one anyway.

The other main thing that you needed to go surfing on the Island was a wet suit. I remember borrowing a Long John from Rusty one day and was amazed at how warm I was compared to wearing just an old tee shirt! Again, suits were difficult to come by. The only things available locally were diving suits, which were not designed for the strenuous activity required for surfing. They were, by & large, just rubber with no nylon lining. Getting these things on (& off!) was a work of art involving ample sprinklings of talcum powder or applications of Fairy Liquid. I always preferred talcum powder as Fairy was always cold & clammy, but strangely, never bubbled up. Eventually, it became possible to buy nylon lined, neoprene sheet and many happy hours were spent with paper patterns, scissors & Evostik.

My first suit was a two piece diving suit which I bought from Bob Ward. That served me well for a few years, until there were more repairs in it than original material. I made a shortie for summer use, which I also wore in winter, over the trousers of the diving suit & under the jacket. That was very warm, but I could hardly move in it. Eventually I bought an O’Neil Long John and a Gul top. That combination wasn’t particularly warm, but it was flexible. At last suit design & materials improved enough for me to buy a custom made Second Skin winter steamer, which was brilliant.

The next thing you needed was board wax. Back in the early days (mid-sixties) there were no specialist waxes like now, so every couple of weeks a trip had to be made to the local chemist for, as Jake says, ‘Something for the weekend’. This was not (necessarily!) condoms, but a block of low melting point Paraffin wax. This was available in most of the larger chemists, but what its official use was, I’ve absolutely no idea. There was also a product that arrived on the scene in the late sixties/early seventies called ‘SlipCheck’. This was an aerosol that sprayed some sort of non-slip coating onto the board. It even came in different colours so that you could make designs on the deck. It wasn’t that popular though, because it was slightly abrasive and had a bad effect on wetsuits & bodies and wasn’t available on the Island.

As time passed, another item that became indispensible, apart from gloves & boots, was a leash. I remember being down in Newquay in ’69 or ’70 & seeing someone with a length of rope running from their ankle to a large sucker cup on the nose of their board.

Tony & I went to the nearest hardware shop & bought rope & a couple of suckers of the type that you would use to hold tea towels on the back of kitchen doors. Needless to say success was somewhat limited, & it was a miracle that neither of us drowned, with our legs tangled up in several feet of blue nylon rope.

However, another entrepreneurial islander soon took up the challenge. Derek Thompson utilised scrap pieces of Hovercraft skirt to make up patches with slots that could be glued to the tail of your board and came up with some red gas hose and Velcro to make the first Cosmic Surf Products surf leash.

I think that one of the most important, but overlooked pieces of kit, was the hat. At last, ice-cream headaches were a thing of the past & early Sunday morning winter surfs were suddenly a lot more pleasant.

Short Boards

I was finally persuaded in about 1969/70 to exchange my popout for something more modern & I thought I’d have a go at making my own board. I bought a Groves Foam blank, but where I shaped & glassed it is lost to my memory in the mists of time. The board was 8 feet long, very narrow with a drawn out ‘gun’ tail and rather crudely shaped rails. I had a job to paddle it, but when I did catch a wave it went like a rocket in a straight line, but was very difficult to turn. After about a year, I gave in and bought a ridiculously short 6’6” Bilbo. I couldn’t even catch waves on that, let alone ride it any sense. It did fit inside the Cortina, though! Then I progressed to a 6’10” Bilbo. I could catch waves on that, but I just could not transition onto my feet. Then, in about 1971-2 I got Rog Cooper to make me a new board, 7’7” long, lots of floatation, but again a semi-gun shape. After 2-3 years struggling with shorter boards & almost wanting to give up, suddenly I was surfing again!!

Around this time, I went on a trip with Jake, Tony Mac, Don (a buddy from work who said he could cook!) and Chris Coles from Northwood, down to Llangenith on the Gower. One night we were coming back from Swansea, having partaken of strong drink, when Don wanted a pee. I stopped the car & we all got out to take our ease, except Chris, who, pissed as a rat, climbed into the driving seat & drove off, leaving us at the roadside in the pitch dark at midnight in the middle of nowhere! It was some time before he came back & we never did get an explanation as to where he’d gone or why. And Don couldn’t cook.

Jake Wilson

Having had a go at making my own board, Jake & Tony Mac wanted to have a go as well. We decided to pool our resources & talents and make boards. Jake came up with the name ‘Will Jason Surfboards’, an amalgam of our names. I thought this sounded a bit too smooth & so suggested ‘Jake Wilson’, which I thought had a bit more bite, and so, eventually, ‘Jake Wilson Surfboards’ was formed. A friend printed up some Jake Wilson stickers on tissue paper for us to lay up under the glass & we were away. We made boards for ourselves using the infamous Groves Foam and orders from Sid, Rob Clark & Rob Greenhalge, among others, soon followed.

Jakes’ garage was divided into two parts by a polythene sheet over a timber frame, one area for shaping & one for glassing. Tony was the glasser, Jake was the pin line wizard (he had such a supple wrist!) and I did the shaping. Resin was weighed out using ordinary domestic scales (I don’t think Jen ever found out!) and Tony occasionally got the ratios a bit wrong & got a hot mix going which had to be thrown out onto the drive to prevent a fire. It’s a wonder we didn’t all succumb to the fumes sometimes. In fact, Rusty Long always said that resin fumes made him fart; and I know that one day he was forced to stop his works van half way up Quarr Hill so that everyone could bail out due to the smell, so perhaps that also goes some way to explaining Jake’s gaseous habits.

In truth, our boards were nothing to write home about, but we did have some good fun making them! I don’t know how many we made, but I don’t suppose it exceeds single figures. Are there any still out there? I think Sid still has his. We certainly didn’t make any money out of the venture & I think Jake probably made a loss due to providing endless cups of coffee & gallons of water to clean the brushes that was so hot, Tony called it ‘superheated steam’.

Happy days; I remember talking to a Spanish guy in Laredo, northern Spain, & he was interested in my board, pronouncing it Yak Vilson


The 1980 Trip – by Keith Williams

Was it coincidence that saw 18 Islanders make the journey to Biarritz in the summer of 1980? I think not. As I heard someone say at the recent film night, the surf club was different then; we all knew each other pretty well from years of surfing together and the trip was arranged as much as a social event as a surf trip.

Having arranged to meet up with Sid, Jake et al at the camp site at Moliets Plage, I arrived there one sunny afternoon and on enquiring at the reception desk about where Les Anglais, Monsieur Jacobs et Monsieur Pitman might be pitched, I was told, after much misunderstanding & arm waving, that they were not registered on the site. Disappointed, I decided to head on to Bidart, where I was sure I’d meet up with them, arriving early enough for a surf before dinner.

I don’t now remember the details, but one by one we began to assemble. I do remember being in the bar at Tamarisk Plage with Sid, Mick Thomson, Magic & my newly arrived brother Steve, when a tremendous thunderstorm hit & all the lights went out.

Steve’s VW CamperSomo
Steve’s VW Camper

I headed off to Somo for a few days to meet up with Rob Clark & enjoyed a few quiet days on the beach there before returning to Bidart. We used to be able to drive onto the breakwater at Plage des Cavaliers & park up in those days & I remember sitting on the rocks lining the breakwater with Sid watching the waves.

The best waves we had all trip were at Cote des Basques. On several days running we had 4 – 6 foot waves peeling fast across the beach in glorious sunshine & warm water on a rising tide. I know Jake was made up with it, especially after 4 o’clock, when the local schoolgirls paddled out for a few waves! The weather was hot & sunny most of the time & poor old Sid’s head suffered a bit with sunburn. Even in the hottest weather, it was common in those days for doughnuts to be sold at the beach. At Bidart, a rather overweight youth used to stagger up & down the beach with a tray slung round his neck, full of apricot doughnuts. These were actually quite delicious and we reckoned that the youth was so fat because he had to eat all the unsold doughnuts at the end of the day.

There were many visits to the cafes in Bidart square & I remember Sid discovering wine in plastic bottles with flip off tops in the local Carrefour for about 30p a litre. The best bit was that they didn’t break if you were too pissed to hold onto them properly!

Cote De Basque
Cote De Basque

Whilst in Bidart, I parked the VW up on the beach road, behind the shed that housed the beach cleaning machine. The advantage of parking there was that you were shielded from the headlights of cars coming down the hill during the night to check the surf, or other nefarious activities; the disadvantage was being woken up at 6 a.m. every morning when the cleaning guy started the massive diesel engine & clattered off down to the beach. Perhaps not though, as an early start always got me into some solitary offshore waves, well solitary apart from Rob Clark who was also parked up at the beach.

Living by the beach at Bidart was one of the most unforgettable experiences. An early surf, followed by breakfast, preceded a walk up to the village (much quieter than it is today) for essential shopping & the first visit of the day to the café. Back to the beach for a sunbathe & a doughnut, followed by another surf before the tide gets too high. Then a long, hot, lazy afternoon before dinner and another walk up to the village for some more serious drinking & maybe a visit to the Pelote au Chistera at the Municipal Fronton before staggering back down the beach path to bed. I remember many evenings sitting on the wall overlooking the beach with Jake, watching the lightning storms over the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, hoping that they would clear by the morning, as they invariably would.

There was also a massed dinner one night at the restaurant by the traffic lights at Guethary, now sadly a double glazing shop, with most of the 18 of us in attendance.

France Crew 1980

The thing from this trip that really sticks in my mind was getting stranded at Cherbourg on the way home by a French fishermen’s strike, which closed the port for 3 days. It was a bit of a bore, but bearable for me as I had all the comforts of home with me in the VW, but for others, particularly families with young children, trying to live in car packed with holiday paraphernalia, parked up in the port with hundreds of others, it was no joke.

I remember the first ship to break the blockade was a Townsend Thoreson ferry which had charged through the picket line of French fishing boats with the fire hoses aimed at the strikers and ‘Rule Britannia’ being broadcast over the ships tannoy! I could even make out one of the officers on the bridge wearing a Viking helmet! This really annoyed the French, though, and negotiations to lift the blockade were brought to a halt, but their action did give us stranded Brits a psychological lift. When the time came, it was a relief to finally get onboard to sail home. The final indignity, though, was being docked 3 days pay for being late back to work!

I don’t suppose there will ever be another trip like the 1980 trip. That was just about the last year where there was the freedom to park up anywhere (except Guethary, eh Magic?) and stay overnight and before the advent of Ryanair flying vast hordes of horrid English people into Biarritz for £1. Bidart, in particular, has changed almost out of all recognition with development, new hotels, car parks, crowded breaks & hordes of the aforementioned horrid English people, although once on the beach, it is possible to lay back with your eyes shut & drift back to the golden era. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


The Club Hut – by Keith Williams

The Club Hut – part 3 by Keith Williams

As mentioned in part 2 ‘The Surf Club is Formed’, the club was lucky enough to be able to rent one of the wooden ‘Bungalows’ at Compton from the National Trust for a very modest fee. In fact, I believe it was free, but we made a donation towards the upkeep of the car park each year.

The Surf Club Hut at Compton with John Ainsworth reading the National Trust notice board

In addition, parking in the car park was also free, provided you displayed your club membership card in the windscreen. I remember in the early days, the Hut was in quite good nick & you could ‘book’ the place to stay in over the weekend.

As is usual with communally owned property, it all went down hill, doors being forced, stuff broken and, horror of horrors, boards stolen. Gradually, the cliff edge got closer & closer to the hut; it was originally the inland end of a 3 hut ‘terrace’, but over time the two huts nearest the sea had been demolished as the cliff encroached.

Eventually, the time came when either our hut was demolished as well or it was moved or rebuilt back from the edge. At that time Sid worked for Cheek Brothers & was able to persuade their mobile crane driver to go out to Compton on a Saturday morning & lift the whole thing back to a new position away from the edge.

There was a lot of preparation to do making up a lifting sling arrangement, but the job was a good ‘un, despite the hut door never opening properly again! Eventually, the lease on all the bungalows in the compound ran out (they’d been there since the 1920s) & the National Trust wanted the structures removed to return the area to its natural state. After much lobbying the NT agreed that we could erect a new hut in the corner of the site near the toilet block. That meant that we had to raise the funds to have a new, custom made hut. It took a couple of years with jumble sales, film shows etc, but we eventually got our new hut in October 87.

As it was being installed on site, I said to the supplier, ‘It gets pretty windy here, how are you going to secure it to stop it blowing away?’ He replied rather off handedly that he wasn’t going to do anything about it.

The installation wasn’t complete in one day & he said he would come back the following weekend & finish off. Some of you may remember the Great Storm in Oct 87, mayhem all along the south coast, but one item that never made the news was the fact that the Isle of Wight Surf Club’s new hut had blown clean away & been smashed into a thousand pieces spread all along the Military Road!

There was quite an argument that followed. We refused to pay as we’d not received the goods & the supplier tried to take us to court, but legal opinion was in our favour as the keys to the building had not been handed over & therefore ownership had not passed from the supplier to the Surf Club. A new hut was ordered & constructed & eventually erected on site. By this time though, the club had gone into a bit of a decline, no-one wanted to leave an expensive board in the hut, & many surfers had acquired vans by this time, so few people used the hut for changing. Eventually the hut disappeared, but I had lost connection with the club by this time & I don’t know the reasons why or where it went.


The Early Days – by Keith Williams

Gidget Goes Hawaiian

Being a woodwork teacher, Hutch had made his own board, out of plywood naturally, and an invitation to try it at Compton was made. ‘Don’t try to shoot the curl’ he said, ‘just ride the white water’ What the bloody hell did all that mean?? Suffice to say that after half an hour I was exhausted, having totally failed to catch anything let alone ‘shoot the curl’.